Sometimes you just never know what might have been. The 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers appeared destined for glory. They were winning seemingly every close game, many in heart stopping fashion. The ball was bouncing their way and they were closing in on home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Then, as life is prone to do, everything changed.
First, their best defensive player lays on the field, unable to move his lower extremities, after suffering a life altering, career threatening injury. Then they ascend to the height of exhilaration, only to plummet to the deepest of frustration a moment later, after a potentially game winning touchdown catch somehow didn't actually happen. That had to be like getting one of those fake winning lottery tickets but nobody told you it was a joke till after you called in to quit your job.
One devastating injury and one overturned call completely altered the Steelers path to the Super Bowl. Now their playoff opponent would be the worst matchup for them possible, even before Shazier's injury. The rest is history.
The 2018 season would be different. Put all that bad juju behind them and move forward. Somewhere around this time Kevin Colbert decided he was a riverboat gambler extraordinaire so he repeatedly tried his luck, and lost. There never appeared to be a sense of urgency to fill the huge gaping hole left in the middle of the Steelers defense after Shazier's injury. After the draft came and went without any potential replacement even selected, Colbert gambled he could find a suitable replacement from the NFL free agent bargain bin, or maybe that player was already on the roster. Anybody call for a red headed overachiever to save the day? Wrong again.
All through the distractions of free agency, draft evaluations, Shazier's rehabilitation, and coaching staff changes some intense contract negotiations with a certain superstar running back were going nowhere fast. After realizing a long term deal was unlikely, Colbert gambled again and slapped the franchise tag on the table. Surely the player would sign the tag, play out the season, and move on to greener pastures. I feel certain that Colbert assured himself that nobody in their right mind would walk away from that much guaranteed money to prove a point, but he was wrong again.
The uncertainty of the situation fragmented the locker room and revealed cracks in the Steelers foundation previously unseen. The cracks only worsened with pressure and the drama flowed out freely. A season that at times showed such promise ended up collapsing under the strain of expectations and discord. The season that was to be never materialized.
Kevin Colbert appears to be done with gambling. After this off season started with the Steelers drama dominating the front page news, Colbert traded the source of that drama, and arguably his best offensive weapon, away for the best return possible due to the extenuating circumstances. He has never looked back. Instead the Steelers organization have thrown their support behind their future HOF franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger, both in word and deed. Contract extension successful, resulting stability and sanity achieved.
So what does the future hold for today's Pittsburgh Steelers? I believe this year's team will be a better representation of what last year's team was supposed to be.
About three years ago the Steelers made a renewed commitment to evaluating the character and leadership qualities of any potential draftees. The results have been impressive, but this year's draft class is particularly strong in those aspects.
Based on the makeup of the new additions, it is apparent that the Steelers intend to return to their roots so to speak. The individual skill sets of the incoming free agents and draftees suggest a conscious effort to strengthen the middle of the defense and improve the overall balance of the offense.
For the first time in a long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense can focus on improved execution over coddling egos. They will need to learn to play together as a cohesive unit, but the talent is undeniable at every level. They definitely have an impressive stable of running backs that seem tailor made for some smash mouth football. Snell may be too good to keep off the field.
If Devin Bush can live up to his press clippings, then the Steelers defense very well could be elite once again. Some turnovers would be nice, but like somebody commented on a thread the other day, forcing a punt is a change of possession too.
We'll never know what might have been, but I for one like the direction the Steelers are going.